We all agree on the nature of nature right? Whether you're Christian, atheist, animist, whatever - we all breathe the same air, we all experience the same world, we're all moved by the same beauty, right? Well....
Let me give a very broad-brushstrokes history lesson and then say what I think the bible says...
Thomas Aquinas, the favourite theologian of Roman Catholics (1225-1274) was big on relating "Nature" and "Grace". In terms of knowledge and in terms of salvation Aquinas had a model of co-operation. We build towards God, He tops up our deficiencies with his grace.
God's grace does not destroy our works, it completes them - so said Thomas. He was very clear that no-one could think their way completely towards God, neither can we work our way completely towards heaven - we all need a helping hand. But that's how it works, God helps those who help themselves.
The rediscovery of the gospel in the 16th century completely destroys that way of thinking: We're saved and we know God by his grace alone. Christ alone is God's gift coming down to us. And He is received, not by any religious capacity of our own, but by faith alone. The green arrow comes down from heaven and then goes through us and out to the world. That's the gospel, and it obliterates the co-operation model.
But what happens when that gospel gets lost again? Because it does get lost again post-reformation. This time it's not lost to medieval catholicism, it's lost to the Enlightenment.
With the Enlightenment there are also two elements, but they aren't so much nature and grace, they are nature and supernature (i.e. the supernatural).
Here, the nature arrow is no longer pointing up, it's pointing forwards. Enlightenment people come to believe that the natural world is pretty much self-sustaining. The world grinds along according to iron laws of physics which reason can discover. There's really not much point in anything supernatural, but maybe that realm does exist, up there, in an ethereal way divorced from "the real world."
Of course this is the world view we still have today. Some people believe there might well be a floaty, light green, supernatural realm. Others just believe in the reality of this self-sustaining natural world. And of course, once you've set things up like this, the atheist position looks like the most obvious one doesn't it?
In churches today there are two prevailing attitudes about how to relate "the natural" and "the supernatural" - both of them completely assume the Enlightenment worldview.
The first response is to agree that there are these two realms and never the twain shall meet. There's God and Jesus and the Spirit and faith and the Christian life... and then there's the real world. This is the heresy I'm most tempted towards.
The other response is to say "These realms do meet - they meet when freaky, unnatural stuff happens."
Once again the Enlightenment worldview is taken for granted because "God" is associated primarily with things that are not natural. The nature / super-nature divide is assumed, but this time the emphasis is on the supernatural.
People who take these two approaches might seem very different but, deep down, both are singing from the same (secular!) hymn sheet.
I suggest that the two realms that need co-ordinating are not nature and grace or nature and super-nature but Old Creation and New Creation (you could call it 'kingdom of man' and 'kingdom of God', or Adam and Christ, or flesh and Spirit). I think the true picture is more like this:
Here the old creation is the more transparent one - it is less real than the new. It is subject to futility and plunging down into death. There is an arrow here - there is a direction - but under Adam, that direction is downwards.
Overall however there is progress because the second Adam has come. And He brings new creation. Christians are part of this in-breaking kingdom even as we wait in this passing age.
On this view, What does it look like for God to show up?
Well God is at work in the Old Creation and intimately so, it's just that Old Creation goes from life to death. This is God's alien work, but His work nonetheless. His proper work though is the renewal of all things under the feet of Christ (from death to life). Therefore the signs of His coming kingdom are restoration and recreation. God does indeed act in power in this passing age but "freaky" is not the point. New life is.
With this view of the world, What is the nature of "nature"?
Well let's forget the Thomas Aquinas split. Nature is not an obvious realm that we all understand similarly. It's not as though we all have one level of natural understanding that just needs topping up with grace in order to get the fullness of its spiritual meaning. No, the green arrow must come all the way down to convert us and give us new eyes, new ears, new hearts. We must be converted and then we will see the world the way it really is - a proclamation of Christ.
And let's forget the Enlightenment split. Nature is not a self-sustaining realm, divorced from the spiritual. It is the site of God's constant activity in every detail. Of course we must be in Christ to see it and we need the spectacles of the Scriptures to adjust our vision to these realities. But the world is not a neutral space - it's the theatre of Christ's glory:
The earth is full of the glory of the LORD Jesus (Isaiah 6:3; John 12:40-41).
The heavens are declaring the glory of Christ (Psalm 19:1; Romans 10:17-18).
Creation is proclaiming the gospel of Christ (Colossians 1:23).